Multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee has demonstrated a particular affinity for the string bass. Among his discography are multiple duets with Dominic Duval and Michael Bisio, and even a double-disc set with four bassists, Angels, Devils And Haints (CJR, 2008). Now, Blue Chicago Blues can be added to that esteemed catalogue, from a 2007 session recorded in the Windy City with Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, with who the American has collaborated many times as a special guest with The Thing. It's a successful pairing, as evidenced by the cohesive nature of their interactions, which evince a highly charged form and purpose.
In spite of the title, there are no overt blue notes on display here. But McPhee's tone on tenor saxophone is drenched in emotion, even when at his most abstract. And that's where much of this 48-minute studio date finds the pair, on six jointly authored extemporizations. Håker Flaten proves a muscular presence: his uncompromising woody twang often adding a percussive dimension as strings slap against fret board. Furthermore, his moans and groans catalyze the American to some of his most extensive vocalized playing on record, where he uses his voice to add another layer to his blown multiphonics, a tremendously affecting gambit which can raise the hairs on the back of the neck.
An elevated level of collective understanding is apparent from the outset. McPhee posits a five-note figure as a recurring motif on "Truth In The Abstract Blues," at first as a contrast to the Norwegian's rippling pizzicato, and then in support of his nimble fingered punditry. Thereafter the high points come thick and fast. To pick out just a few: on "Cerulean Mood Swing" the reedman accompanies Håker Flaten's elastic thrum with an exquisite passage of growls, howls and overtones in a breathtaking episode, while on "Requiem For An Empty Heart," McPhee joins after a sinewy bass introduction, blending voice and horn into a raw, anguished yet lyrical, line which is simply majestic. "The Shape Of Blues To Come" opens with a quivering saxophone falsetto, intertwining with upper register bowing below the bridge of the bass in a dazzling exposition which could be as easily ten instruments as two.
Even though the saxophonist has already released several outstanding recordings during 2010, including Magic (Not Two), Oto (Bo Weavil), and Trio X- Live On Tour 2008 (CIMPoL), Blue Chicago Blues ranks as one of the best.
Truth In The Abstract Blues; Cerulean Mood Swing; Requiem For An
Empty Heart; I Love You Too Little Baby; The Shape Of Blues To Come;
Legend Of The Three Blind Moose.
Joe McPhee: saxophone; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: bass.